NSAIDs and arthritis

Many people with chronic arthritis are helped by taking one of the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, known for short as NSAIDs.

As their name implies, NSAIDs reduce inflammation of the joints, without using steroids. Taking these medicines can reduce the pain of arthritis, reduce joint stiffness and improve mobility. However, NSAIDs do not cure arthritis or have a long-term effect after you stop taking them.

There are many medicines in this group. Among them are diclofenac (e.g. Voltaren), ibuprofen (e.g. Brufen, Nurofen), indomethacin (e.g. Indocid), ketoprofen (e.g. Orudis), naproxen (e.g. Naprosyn) and piroxicam (e.g. Feldene).

Unfortunately, these medicines can irritate the stomach lining, causing indigestion and even producing ulcers and bleeding. This seems more likely if they are taken on an empty stomach. For this reason they should always be taken during, or immediately after, a meal. It is usually recommended to take the lowest dose that controls symptoms.

Some NSAIDs are also available as creams or gels that can be rubbed on the skin around joints.

A newer type of NSAID, the selective NSAIDs (also called COX-2 inhibitors or coxibs), may be suitable for some people with arthritis. These medicines include celecoxib (Celebrex) and meloxicam (e.g. Mobic). The coxibs are believed to have fewer gastrointestinal side effects than conventional NSAIDs, but they may be associated with an increased risk of heart attacks and strokes. Your doctor can advise you on the risks and benefits of these medicines.

There is no doubt that for many people with arthritis, NSAIDs can greatly improve their quality of life. However, these drugs are not necessary for all people with arthritis, and other ways of treating the problem should always be considered.

Last Reviewed: 1 September 2010
Your Doctor. Dr Michael Jones, Medical Editor.

References

1. Arthritis Australia, Australian Rheumatology Association. Medicines and arthritis (reviewed Apr 2010). http://www.arthritisaustralia.com.au/images/stories/documents/info_sheets/english/colour/template_MedicinesandArthritis.pdf (accessed Mar 2011).
2. Arthritis Australia, Australian Rheumatology Association. Patient information on non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) (revised Oct 2010). http://www.arthritisaustralia.com.au/images/stories/documents/info_sheets/NSAIDS_011010.pdf (accessed Mar 2011).
3. MayoClinic.com. Arthritis (updated 22 Jan 2011). http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/arthritis/DS01122 (accessed Mar 2011).
Dr Michael Jones

Dr Michael Jones

Medical Editor, Your Doctor.